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Lleyn and Bardsey Island

Landscape description

Lleyn is a large peninsula extending south west of the main mountain massif of Snowdonia. Topographically, it comprises a dissected plateau with outliers of harder rocks forming a number of isolated, but prominent, hills and ridges. The whole, however, has been very much modified by deposits of material laid down at the end of the last Ice Age. Yr Eifl, the so-called Rivals in the north east are the most prominent hills reaching 564m above OD, followed by Garn Fadrun in the centre of the peninsula at 371m above OD, and Mynydd Rhiw in the south west at 304m above OD, but there are several lower hills rising in between these summits. The gently undulating plateau surface is generally between 50m and 100m above OD, with occasional lower areas formed by shallow valley basins, coastal margins or narrow, deeply incised, hidden valleys. Bardsey Island lies off the south western tip of the peninsula across Bardsey Sound, and reaches 167m OD.

Tre'r Ceiri hillfort. Crown Copyright: RCAHMW.

pg96.jpg (34513 bytes)This extensive area, unlike many others in Wales, has few major monuments, few large extents of relict features, and little by way of an unifying historic theme such as, for example, the development of settlement or industrial patterns. Yet, it possesses a great and unparalleled wealth and diversity of, most often, smaller scale archaeological and historic features, which together form a cohesive and integrated whole, demonstrating both the continuity and the territorial unity of Lleyn from possibly prehistoric times onwards. There are archaeological sites ranging from the Mesolithic period to the recent past, and it is an area of Wales where the effects of both the Roman and English conquests seem to have had very little effect.

Mesolithic sites have been found on some of the coastal headlands around Uwchmynydd and Trwyn Bychestyn, probably relics of hunting settlements which exploited the coastal plains long since inundated by the sea. The exceptionally hard rock of Mynydd Rhiw provided raw material for the manufacture of polished stone axes in the Neolithic period. The primitive quarries which have been identified were probably worked by the first farmers in the area who buried their dead in the cromlechi or chambered tombs such as Cefnamwlch and Rhiw. The higher outcrops are also the sites of Bronze Age burial cairns whose builders, as it is becoming apparent from the result of aerial photography and excavation, also raised earthen barrows in areas where stone was less plentiful. Archaeological investigations have also revealed traces of a middle Bronze Age farmstead at Sarn Meyllteyrn, and confirmed the considerable potential for the discovery of more buried archaeological evidence of this type.

The best known and most impressive prehistoric monuments in the area are the magnificent Iron Age hillforts crowning the summits of Mynydd Ceiri (Tre'r Ceiri), Garn Boduan and Garn Fadrun, with several other, smaller but complementary, forts on other summits. The communities who provided the resources to build these hilltop citadels lived in farmsteads dispersed on the adjoining lowlands but, as in the earlier periods, their remains have tended to survive above ground only in those areas with a plentiful supply of stone, and where later agricultural clearances have not occurred. Aerial photography and excavation have however, started to reveal hidden, buried remains of settlements belonging to this period in the area. The number and large size of the Iron Age hillforts in Lleyn certainly suggest that the landscape was being intensively exploited at this time.

pg97.jpg (22447 bytes)Roman influence appears to have been minimal, there being no known Roman military sites in the area, consequently Celtic customs and religion may have persisted more strongly than elsewhere, a fact which may in part account for the religious importance of Lleyn and Bardsey during the ensuing Early Christian period. As religious sites, Bardsey and Aberdaron have had a clear historical relationship to each other over many centuries. The ecclesiastical site on the island was traditionally founded by St Cadfan, and by the 12th century it had a reputation for sanctity as the burial place of 'twenty thousand saints'. It was taken over by Augustinian canons and has since persisted as a place of pilgrimage. Aberdaron on the mainland was a clas or principal church site dedicated to St Hywyn. The community is first mentioned in 1094 , when the canons provided a boat for Gruffydd ap Cynan to escape. The topography of the site, which is located almost directly on the sea shore, is, unfortunately, badly eroded, but the position is typical of many early church sites in the Celtic countries.

Bardsey Abbey tower, Bardsey Island. Crown Copyright: RCAHMW.

These sites, however, are not the only pointers to the significance of the area in the early centuries AD. The two inscribed stones from Capel Anelog (now in Aberdaron church) are amongst the most vocal records of this period in Wales. Other stones have come from Llannor, and in addition there are numerous dedications of churches to Celtic saints. The priory on St Tudwal's Islands is another important site with a possible early foundation.

In the later medieval period, most of the area fell within the cantref of Lleyn, divided into the commotes of Cymydmaen, Dinllaen and Cafflogion, with their commotal centres at Neigwl, Nefyn and Pwllheli respectively. The sites of most of the constituent townships have survived as settlements or placenames into the present day. Much of the land was held by the church and monasteries, notably Bardsey, Clynnog Fawr and Cymer, and the present patchwork of small dispersed villages and settlements, lanes, fields, stone walls, banks and hedges which is so typical of the Lleyn landscape, must to a great extent date from this period as, for example, at Uwchmynydd (photo, p. xxvi), although there are classic areas of later rectilinear 19th century Parliamentary Enclosures on common land, particularly in Rhoshirwaun, Bryncroes, Llaniestyn and Rhiw.

There are only two towns, Nefyn and Pwllheli. Nefyn was the maerdref and administrative centre of the commote of Dinllaen, and developed into one of the principal towns of Gwynedd during the 13th and 14th centuries, supported by fishing and also as a stopping place for pilgrims on the way to Bardsey. After the Edwardian conquest, it became a borough, but it was devastated during the Glyndwˆr rebellion in 1400, and never really recovered as a settlement until the 19th century. Pwllheli, on the opposite side of the peninsula, was the maerdref and administrative centre of the commote of Cafflogion and developed on similar lines to Nefyn, becoming a borough after the conquest but, unlike Nefyn, it recovered from the Glyndwˆr rebellion to develop further over the ensuing centuries. The original core of the town has largely been subsumed by 19th century land reclamation and developments whose characteristic architectural forms and styles dominate the present townscape.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, minerals have been extracted, most notably granite from a series of prominent coastal quarries, with processing and wharfage facilities and attendant workers' housing. Perhaps the most famous is the former quarrying village in Nant Gwrtheyrn which is now the National Language Centre for Wales. Contemporary attitudes to social, economic and landscape changes are graphically described by T. Jones Hughes in his study of the historical geography and material culture of the agricultural community living in the area around Aberdaron at the beginning of the 1950s.

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detailed maps


Ref number HLW (Gw) 8
Index map no. 26
OS map Landranger 123
Former county Gwynedd
Unitary authority Gwynedd
Principal area designations The area includes the greater part of the Lleyn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is entirely within the Lleyn Peninsula Environmentally Sensitive Area. The area includes Bardsey Island and Cors Geirch National Nature Reserves; Glannau Aberdaron, Mynydd Penarfynydd, Porth Ceiriad, Porth Dinllaen and Yr Eifl Sites of Special Scientific Interest; Garn Fadrun, Garn Boduan and Tre'r Ceiri camps Scheduled Ancient Monuments; Aberdaron, Bardsey Island, Llanaelhaearn, Llanengan, Llangian, Llaniestyn, Nefyn, Pwllheli and Trefor Conservation Areas.
Criteria 3, 4, 5
Contents and significance Lleyn is a large and topographically varied peninsula lying to the south west of Snowdonia, with composite, yet highly integrated and well-preserved evidence of land use, showing continuity and territorial unity possibly from prehistoric times. The area includes: Mesolithic coastal sites; Neolithic chambered tombs and axe factory; upstanding and crop-mark Bronze Age funerary and ritual sites; large Iron Age hillforts; Early Christian sites and associations; Bardsey Island; medieval churches; Nefyn and Pwllheli towns; small, dispersed villages and settlements in a distinctive enclosed landscape of stone walls, banks and hedges; Parliamentary Enclosures; recent mineral quarries and associated settlements.

Selected sources

  1. C.J. Arnold and R. Gerallt Jones, editors, Enlli (University of Wales Press: Cardiff 1996).
  2. T. Jones Hughes, 'Aberdaron'. in E. Davies and A. D. Rees, editors, Welsh Rural Communities (University of Wales Press: Cardiff 1962).
  3. T. Jones Pierce, 'The Old Borough of Nefyn, 13551882', Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society, 18 (1957), 535.
  4. T. Jones Pierce, 'Bardsey A Study in Monastic Origins' in J. Beverley Smith, editor, Medieval Welsh Society: Selected Essays by
    T. Jones Pierce (University of Wales Press: Cardiff 1972), 391407.
  5. D.G. Lloyd Hughes, Pwllheli: An Old Welsh Town and its History (Gomer Press: Llandysul 1991).
  6. F. Lynch, A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales: Gwynydd (HMSO: London 1995).
  7. Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales, Inventory, Caernarvonshire III (West) (HMSO 1964).

Landscape Summaries

Partial Comprehensive
About the register Forward
Participating organisations Preface
Summary Introduction
Using the register Appendicies
Landscape area map Publication details
Crown Copyright 1998